The first hint that people thought I had an "expiration date" (a visible, indelible mark on my person, saying how much time I had left to be a potential romantic partner or plain old-fashioned piece of ass) came a few days after my divorce was finalized.
I was chatting with a friend when he congratulated me on my newly single status and, predictably, asked about my love life. Well, what he actually said was that I better be collecting as many headboard notches as humanly possible.
I laughed, of course. But instead of playing along, I just went with the truth.
“To be honest, I haven’t thought much about it,” I replied. “There’s so much going on here right now that dating is pretty low on my list of priorities.”
“I wasn’t necessarily suggesting ‘dating.’”
“I get it, I do. You’re in transition. But don’t wait too long -- for a good time or something more,” he warned me. “It’s not like you’ll be young and hot for much longer.”
And he’s not the only one suggesting such a thing. No matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing, no matter what I am reading or what I'm watching, I hear the same message over and over again: You're getting older. You're losing your physical charms. And you better get to fixing what you can NOW or face a lifetime alone.
I just don’t get it.
Last year, I moved back to the United States after six years in Germany. There, my concept of beauty changed quite a bit. Women in Europe had a certain confidence, an ability to be comfortable in their own skin that I had never really experienced before.
Back home in the states my conversations with my girlfriends always seemed to gravitate toward our imperfections -- you know, that extra 10 pounds that won’t budge, that gray hair that won’t behave, the plastic surgery procedure we’d get if only we could afford it.
No matter where the conversation started, it always seemed to end up in a strange form of competitive self-deprecation.
Who was working hardest at the gym with the least results. Who had a professional cover her gray since high school. Who hadn't eaten a single gram of carbohydrate since last Christmas. We'd perfected the art of denying ourselves -- in more ways than one. The only thing to do with such perfection was share it.
My German friends, however, talked mostly about all the amazing things their bodies could do. What’s more, they liked to talk about the things that age and experience afforded those bodies.
The long hike they just finished, the ability to not only birth but keep up with three kids and, yes, even the number of beers they put away the weekend before. They made it clear that our bodies, and the miles that we put on them, were something to be appreciated -- to be savored, really.
Now that I’m back in the U.S., I find myself consistently bombarded with messages that I can look -- and therefore be -- better. As if the two are obviously and unalterably intertwined. And I can’t just blame television and magazines because the message is coming from my peers and friends just as often.
I remember an old Oil of Olay commercial from when I was young. A gorgeous model, who probably wasn’t a day over 30, looked straight at the camera and said, “I don’t intend to age gracefully. I’ll fight it every step of the way.”
We've been bred to stand up to aging, to use every tool at our disposal to beat time into submission. But instead of fighting it with a $10 bottle of drug store moisturizer, we're now expected to spend at least a few hours a week with a personal trainer, whiten our teeth to a blinding perfection, wax our hoo-ha's to a pre-pubescent glow, get the fat sucked out of our asses (and perhaps injected into our lips), eat nothing that boasts more than 300 calories and never leave the house without a full face of make-up.
All in the name of love and desire, all in hopes of outwitting some alleged expiration date. It’s exhausting.
But, more importantly, there’s no evidence to suggest that it actually works.
While I was researching my book, "Dirty Minds," I learned about a large-scale, longitudinal menopause study conducted by Lorraine Dennerstein.
Many hoped that Dennerstein and her colleagues would find some kind of smoking gun -- something lacking in older women that could be linked to a decrease in sexual desire as women aged. Instead, she found something curious.
The biggest factor regarding whether an older woman was enjoying an active sex life? Not her weight, her health or even her hormonal status. It was whether or not she had a new partner.
That says something to me. It says that you can only fight so far and so long. That, at a certain point, you need to weigh the resources involved with fighting gravity and ask yourself if they are interfering with enjoying the moment. Because it would really suck to miss a hot new lover because your Thursday nights were booked with regular thigh lasering appointments.
I’d like to say that the German body image mindset has stayed with me despite my change of location, that I embrace every line, every extra pound on this body and consider them tributes to a life well lived. But I’d be lying through my slightly tea-stained teeth.
The truth is, I kind of hate it.
I sigh at every little line cross-hatched around my eyes, threatening to deepen into more significant gullies. I mourn every hair lost each morning to shower. I wish it weren’t so easy to see my love of carbs in every swing of my hips. To paraphrase Mick and The Boys, it can be a real drag getting old -- and that’s before I stop talking the superficial and consider that, eventually, both my body and brain won’t work the way I want them to.
But do you know what I’d hate even more? I’d hate to believe that I am somehow diminished and not empowered by each extra day I get to live and explore this big, wide world of ours. I’d hate to think that the only value I have is related to whether I look better now than I did at 23. And, I’d really hate to think that my “hotness” is only related to what you see on the outside.
So, it’s true -- I won’t be young for much longer. Whatever “young,” in this day and age means. As Marilyn said, gravity eventually catches up with all of us. No matter what you do, you can’t escape its clutches forever.
But I refuse to give in to the idea that I have an expiration date. And when I am ready to get back out into the big, bad dating world, my older, wiser (and yes, fatter) self is going to go for the gusto. Because my real “hot” -- and your “hot,” too -- has absolutely nothing to do with a birthdate.